Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Six Challenges of High School Reform

On January 26, 2007 James Kemple of MDRC presented conclusions from a multi-pronged study of talent development high schools, first things first schools, and career academies. The study looked at impact, not outcomes: that is, the study valued incremental change and value added, not simply meeting desired outcomes.

The study has identified six major challenges of high school reform, and I wonder how these six fit the experience of NCTE members who teach high school.

1. Creating a personalized learning environment. When students have a supportive environment and positive relationships, particularly with faculty advisory systems, students do better. This alone, however, does not prevent dropout or raise achievement.

2. Enhancing basic literacy and math skills. The two enhancements studied were sequential transitional courses in 9th grade, which were associated with substantial improvements in performance and promotion to 10th grade, and double-blocked schedules to support the transitional courses. Focusing on the critical 9th year is crucial.

3. Improving instructional content and pedagogy. Because NCTE provides professional development, I was particularly interested in the three conclusions drawn are: (a) "Teachers benefit from well-designed curricula and lesson plans that have already been developed." (b) "Teacher professional development and coaching appear to be necessary for building instructional capacity and responsive teaching." and (c) "Student achievement may be enhanced when teachers work together to make sure that curricula and lessons are engaging, aligned, and rigorous."

4. Preparing students for the world beyond high school. "Career awareness and development activities, in and outside of school, provide effective tools for transitions to employment without limiting access to college."

5. Stimulating change and sustaining high performance. Two pieces of evidence here speak to NCTE activities. (a) "External expertise and intensive support appear to be critical to capacity building." and (b) "District support may not be a necessary condition for intitiating reforms, but is required for scaling up and long-term sustainability."

6. Building knowledge. The most interesting point here is that "a focus on outcomes and not on impact has left a track record of getting the wrong answer to the right question." Kemple believes strongly that "Modest improvements are policy relevant." Sharing progress at conventions, in publications, within schools, with policy makers, and in the media begins to correct the notion that only meeting an outcome is significant. Do you agree that incremental improvement is the reality and a positive reality?

If you are interested in more about this study, it is available in a MDRC publication
titled Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform. See www.mdrc.org


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